Mining is a dangerous job, but someone’s got to do it. Cave-ins, landslides, poor air quality, and explosions are some of the most common causes of mining accidents. Below are some of the most notable accidents in South America.
The 2010 Chilean mining accident is undoubtedly the most famous of all mining accidents, because the rescue was quite miraculous. When a portion of a Chilean mine caved in, 33 miners ages 18 to 56 were trapped 2,300 feet underground. In the past, little could have been done to save these miners—meaning they would have all died of starvation. However, advanced drilling technology was used to create adequate air, deliver food and supplies, and to eventually drill an exit path large enough to fit a small capsule to transport out the miners. The miners were trapped 69 days underground. All 33 survived.
In 2012 a group of unauthorized 9 miners were trapped in an abandoned gold and copper mine in Southern Peru. The air and hydration line put in place when the mine was in operation kept them alive for the week they were trapped 656 feet underground. The cave in was caused by an explosion that caused almost 20 feet of debris. All miners survived.
Not all mining accidents have happy endings. A landslide blocked the entryway of a Peruvian copper mine resulting in 164 feet of mud and rock. Due to an unfortunate combination of poor communication, bad weather, and the remote location—rescue efforts were delayed. One miner escaped and said that 3 of 7 remaining miners were still trapped inside. In the end, one miner was found dead—and the reaming 6 were not found, as the rescue attempts were abandoned after one week. This was an “informal” mine in which the miners were presumably working off the books for an official mining company.
2010 was not a good year for South American miners. While controlled explosions are part of the mining process, sometimes things go awry. An explosion at a northwest Columbia mine killed at least 18 on impact, and trapped, then killed somewhere in the range of 70 miners in all. This same mine saw the death of 5 miners after a flood in 2008. The 2010 explosion was one of the largest mining death tolls in history.
There is always a risk in mining, but strong safety and regulatory policies help to minimize the black market—and improve the conditions of all mines.